Sick of feeling helpless in the face of China’s toxic air pollution plague, Beijing based artist Wen Fang set out to tackle the problem in the only way she knew how: through her art. Two years later, her photography project ‘Maskbook’ has become a global collaborative artwork and a feature of Art of Change 21.   In China’s cities, where pollution frequently soars to hazardous levels, air purifiers, pollution masks and days where the sky is obscured by thick, yellow, toxic smog are a routine part of life.

No one knows this better than Wen Fang. A native Beijinger, she has seen the city’s smog problem grow to apocalyptic levels in her lifetime and more recently in that of her son. Like many Chinese children his age, the four-year-old is frequently hospitalized with health complications from breathing polluted air.

“Children my son’s age are very likely to have problems with their lungs…they often have to go to the hospital. In China, the fight against air pollution is truly a matter of life and death”

She decided to do something about it. 

She created ‘Maskbook’: a series of images that takes the pollution mask- a mundane symbol of the very real fears that Chinese urban residents face- and turns it into an absurd work of art. The name comes from a common Chinese joke about the social platform, Facebook. “In China, since we all wear masks to protect us against the pollution, we say that Facebook for us should be renamed Maskbook”

The project was born in 2014, after Wen Fang was invited to represent China and participate in  Art of Change 21, an international meeting of artists and environmental activists prior to December 2015’s Paris climate talks. The concept of Maskbook was chosen as the movement’s pilot scheme and from there amplified to become an interactive, worldwide collaborative art project.
Now, over 1500 people from over 25 countries around the world have had their creations included on the Maskbook website.

“In my opinion, individual participation is important. The special thing about Maskbook is that it all comes from common people, from all different colours and nations.”

“Air pollution and smog is now the biggest public concern for Chinese people-everyone of us is responsible for tackling it.” said Wen Fang. “As an artist, I have a responsibility to do something, instead of just waiting and complaining”

Feeling creative? YOU can join thousands of people around the world and have your work included in the Maskbook project. Find out more here.
Anna McGurk is a content writer for Greenpeace East Asia